First- class dis­hon­ours

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Ge­of­frey Al­der­man

AGREAT MANY peo­ple have had their say on the decision of the of­fi­cers of Leeds Univer­sity Jsoc to with­draw from Brooke Gold­stein the in­vi­ta­tion pre­vi­ously ex­tended to her to ad­dress the so­ci­ety. In all the hul­la­baloo that has sur­rounded this in­ci­dent, some ba­sic facts seem to have been lost sight of. The first is that, in its treat­ment of Ms Gold­stein, Leeds Jsoc acted with in­cred­i­ble rude­ness.

Had the so­ci­ety’s of­fi­cers con­sid­ered her suit­abil­ity as a speaker and come to a decision that she should not be in­vited, one might have ac­qui­esced in it. One might have ques­tioned the rea­son­ing that lay be­hind even the po­litest of re­fusals but one could, I think, have ac­cepted it on the ba­sis that it is for the so­ci­ety’s elected of­fi­cers to de­cide whom they in­vite.

But this isn’t what hap­pened. What hap­pened was that they de­cided to in­vite Ms Gold­stein. And then, two days be­fore she was due to speak, and af­ter the event had been ad­ver­tised, the in­vi­ta­tion was with­drawn.

The with­drawal of the in­vi­ta­tion was not merely dis­cour­te­ous and im­po­lite. It was de­lib­er­ately dis­cour­te­ous and know­ingly im­po­lite. More than that, it amounted to a gross in­ter­fer­ence with Ms Gold­stein’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion. I say this be­cause the grounds upon which the in­vi­ta­tion was with­drawn re­lated — or so we are told — to mat­ters that must have been well known to or, eas­ily as­cer­tain­able by, the Leeds Jsoc of­fi­cers at the time at which the in­vi­ta­tion was orig­i­nally despatched.

These grounds are sum­marised in a Leeds Jsoc press re­lease as hav­ing to do with Ms Gold­stein’s “links with anti-mus­lim pro­pa­gan­dists”. I don’t pro­pose here to in­ves­ti­gate these links, for the sim­ple rea­son that they are com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant. Upon Is­lam, as upon any other sub­ject, Ms Gold­stein is en­ti­tled to her views and to ex­press such views pub­licly. They may or may not be “con­tro­ver­sial” — or even (to quote Leeds Jsoc) “too con­tro­ver­sial”. So what? I am sure that Ms Gold­stein, an ac­com­plished lawyer, did not need to be re­minded that what­ever she was minded to say — had she been per­mit­ted to say it — had to be within the law of the land. Mer­ci­fully, in this coun­try (as in the USA), it is still within the law of the land to ex­press in public views that may be con­sid­ered con­tentious and even di­vi­sive. And if one can­not ex­press con­tro­ver­sial, con­tentious and/or di­vi­sive views within the por­tals of a univer­sity, where pre­cisely may one ex­press them?

It is here that we reach the nub of the mat­ter, which is that, by their ac­tions, those in charge of the af­fairs of Leeds Jsoc have dem- on­strated that they have not the slight­est no­tion of what a univer­sity is for and what prin­ci­ples un­der­pin its func­tion­ing.

So let me tell them. A univer­sity ex­ists for the pur­suit of truth — no mat­ter how un­pleas­ant, of­fen­sive or un­palat­able. And, in or­der that it may pur­sue the truth, a univer­sity ex­ists to pro­tect and fa­cil­i­tate the ques­tion­ing of re­ceived wis­dom and the ex­pres­sion of opin­ions with which oth­ers may pro­foundly dis­agree. These prin­ci­ples are core to the idea and pur­pose of a univer­sity. They are not ne­go­tiable.

I am told that some mem­bers of Leeds Jsoc are con­grat­u­lat­ing them­selves on the fact that no less than 14 mem­bers, vicepres­i­dents and trus­tees of the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil ap­pended their sig­na­tures to a pitiable let­ter (pub­lished in the JC two weeks ago) ex­press­ing con­fi­dence in the so­ci­ety and thank­ing its of­fi­cers “for sim­ply try­ing to do the best they can”.

Apart from the fact that, by sign­ing this let­ter, these 14 grandees have demon­strated their ut­ter un­will­ing­ness — or, in­abil­ity — to com­pre­hend the above un­der­ly­ing is­sues of prin­ci­ple, I must point out that no less than (by my reck­on­ing) 18 trus­tees, mem­bers and vice-pres­i­dents of the so-called Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil did not sign the let­ter.

Out of this sorry af­fair, that is the only grain of com­fort I can of­fer. As for Leeds Jsoc, the very least its mem­bers can do — apart, that is, from of­fer­ing Ms Gold­stein an un­equiv­o­cal public apol­ogy — is to dis­pense with the ser­vices of the cur­rent of­fice-hold­ers and re­place them with per­sons who have at least a mod­icum of un­der­stand­ing of the pur­pose of a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion.

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